We all know Santa's story by now. He was originally a bishop back in the day, and after he died he became known as Saint Nicholas, or Saint Nick for short. And even way back then, before Christmas became a major holiday, the anniversary of his death was a day to celebrate by giving out gifts. But most of us do not know that Saint Nick actually had a bad rap for a while, and that is actually how he got all of the other names we know him by today.
During the time of great change in the Christian Church known as the Protestant Reformation, which occurred in the 1500s, the famous Martin Luther declared that all good Christians should stop celebrating saints. For the devout followers of Luther, that meant also stopping the celebration of Saint Nick, no matter how fun the gift giving had become.
But of course, not all Christians stopped celebrating Saint Nick, not even all of the Protestants. Instead of stopping the celebration, they crafted a plan to enjoy the Saint Nick holiday in secret. This is when Saint Nick became known in England as "Father Christmas". In Germany, people referred to Santa as "Christmas Man", and the Dutch created the name "Sinterklass."
About this time, a large majority of Dutch settlers moved to New Amsterdam in America – what would later become New York – and brought their celebration of Sinterklass with him. Americans caught on to the idea, and tried to pronounce his name right. But instead, what came out was "Santa Claus."
However, Santa Claus [http://www.mailfromsantaclaus.com/] didnt hit the big time until the author of "Sleepy Hollow," Washington Irving, got wind of Santa Claus and promoted him the American press. This happened in the early 1800s, when Washington Irving wrote a story called the "A History of New York," in which he went into great detail about a man called "Sinterklass." This Saint Nick was fat and short, wore a funny costume, and would travel around on the Eve of Saint Nicolas on a horse.
The idea of jolly gift-giving man talked on in the American press. Another writer, the poet Clement Clark Moore, wrote a poem called "A Visit from St. Nicolas," which is better known as, "The Night Before Christmas." It was Moore who made Saint Nick a jolly old elf who flies around the night in a magical sleigh powered by eight flying reindeer. We all know the names of those reindeer, right? Well, Moore also included them in his poem.
Americans would get their best images of Santa Claus in the magazines of the late 1800s, when the cartoonist Thomas Nast put out his own visions of Saint Nick in Harper's Weekly. For Nast, Santa was a bigger man with a big fat belly, who wore a red suit lined with fur and a big leather belt. Nast also started drawing images of Santa's workshop in the North Pole, and Santa using a list to keep track of his kids who were naughty and nice.
Of course, these are all the images of Santa that we use today in the newspapers, in cartoons, and on TV. Or should we say, sometimes, images of Sinterklass?